Garland Pledges Independent DOJ as Biden’s Attorney General

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President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to be attorney general pledged to restore independence to the Justice Department’s work and said riots at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday showed the importance of the rule of law.

Merrick Garland, the federal judge who never got a hearing on his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court during the Obama administration, said his mission as attorney general will be to reaffirm those policies as the principles that guide the department’s work.

“The rule of law is not just some lawyer’s turn of phrase,” Garland said on Thursday after being introduced by Biden. “It is the very foundation of our democracy.”

Biden said Garland is “one of the most respected jurists of our time” and added that he expects the attorney general and department to be independent.

“Your loyalty is not to me,” Biden said. “It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation, to guarantee justice.”

Wednesday’s riots at the Capitol, which delayed the counting of the Electoral College’s votes enshrining Biden’s victory, hung over the day’s events. Four people died -- one shot by Capitol Police -- after a pro-Trump mob stormed the halls of Congress.

The mob acted after attending a rally where Trump vowed to “never concede” the November election to Biden. The day’s events proved even too much for former Attorney General William Barr, who resigned from the administration last month.

Barr told the Associated Press on Thursday that Trump betrayed his office, joining former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in blaming Trump for the violence. The statement is notable because Barr was one of the most loyal and ardent supporters of Trump before resigning.

The nomination of Garland will particularly resonate with Democrats after Senate Republicans -- led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- prevented him from ascending to the high court in 2016. After the stonewalling by Republicans, Trump tapped Neil Gorsuch for the spot opened up by Antonin Scalia’s death a year earlier, winning quick confirmation from the GOP-controlled Senate. It was the first of Trump’s three successful appointments to the nation’s highest court.

If confirmed, Garland will have to help navigate the department past a series of political land mines, from whether to push for charges against Trump once he leaves office to how to handle an ongoing criminal investigation by federal prosecutors and the Internal Revenue Service into Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

Biden also named Lisa Monaco to be deputy attorney general and Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general. Monaco spent more than a decade at the Justice Department and was homeland security adviser in the Obama administration. Gupta headed the department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama.

“This is a team that will restore your trust and faith in our institutions and democracy,” Biden said. “There’s no more important and heartfelt effort on my part than restoring the independence and integrity of our Justice Department.”

Biden praised the nominees as “among the most accomplished legal minds in our country.”

Garland, 68, is a veteran of the legal community and Justice Department. He has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since 1997.

He first served in the department as a special assistant in President Jimmy Carter’s administration before going into private practice. He returned to the department for a brief stint in 1989 as an assistant U.S. attorney.

In 1993, he became a deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s criminal division and then was promoted to be a top aide to the deputy attorney general.

Garland oversaw high-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions, including for bombings in Oklahoma City and at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

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